When and how did these protests start?
The 2014 protests began with a round of student demonstrations that took place in Mérida, Táchira and Caracas starting around February 8, 2014. These protests began to demand better security on university campuses. These first protests were relatively small and isolated.
On February 10, the public reacted with outrage when news spread that several student protesters had been detained for taking part in the demonstrations. At first, the students were denied access to their lawyers.
These first detentions sparked protests against the perceived assault on the freedom of expression. On February 12, protests in solidarity with the students in Táchira spread throughout the country. People were out protesting insecurity, abuses against constitutional rights, inflation and scarcity. By mid-February, what had started as a student movement in a far-off corner of Venezuela had spread to every major city in the country.
What were people protesting about?
In March of 2014, there were three major issues people were protesting against: insecurity, inflation, and scarcity. As the government’s response to the protests became more and more heavy-handed, human rights abuses were added to the list of grievances.
Here are some statistics about the situation in Venezuela in the early part of 2014:
- In the first two months of 2014, 2,841 murders were recorded in Venezuela. There are 10 more months to go.
- The official inflation rate for all of 2013 was 56.2%, the highest in all of Latin America.
- In January, according to the Venezuelan Central Bank, the scarcity index in the country was 28%. This means that if you go to the supermarket to buy four basic items (for example, flour, milk, toilet paper and eggs), at least one of those items will be completely out of stock.
Who exactly was protesting?
The government will tell you that the protests are limited to a very small group of “fascists” under the direct control of the United States and/or Colombia via their ex-president, Alvaro Uribe. They would also tell you that the people out on the streets are exclusively upper and middle-class Venezuelans who seek a return to the pre-PSUV days.
The opposition will tell you that the protesters are made up of individuals from all walks of life, including the urban and rural poor. There is evidence that this is the case, some of which you can see here. The opposition argument is this: “Insecurity, scarcity and inflation affect everyone, the poor most of all. Therefore, to assume that the poor are not protesting is ignoring the economic and social situation Venezuela finds itself in.”
What did the protesters want?
This is where things get tricky. In Venezuela, “the opposition” means “everyone who is not with the PSUV”. In other words, there a lot of opposition groups in Venezuela. This means that the opposition is struggling, as it has historically, to present a unified front against the PSUV. Some protesters want Maduro and the PSUV kicked out of the country. Others just want concessions from the PSUV that they will work to address these issues. Others want something of a mix of the two. For better or for worse, this translates into a rather desperate motivation for many people: “I don’t know what I want the government to do, so long as something happens to fix the insecurity/inflation/scarcity”.
Having said that, a survey conducted by a polling organization called Datos on March 16 2014 gives us a hint of what the answer to this question might be. Amongst other points, the survey found that 69% of respondents agreed that the opposition should follow a constitutional path to change the government, and that 64% of respondents agreed that Venezuela has to “[exit this government] as soon as possible through constitutional means.” In other words, it is fair to say that a common government assertion – that the protesters are violent fascists with no regard for the law – is probably false, and that the majority of protesters favour a constitutional, legal transition to another government as soon as possible.
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